Sorry for another newbie thread, guys. I've read other threads with similar questions but couldn't seem to find exactly what I was looking for, so here goes:

I've wanted to work in film post/sound design/sound fx since I was very young and am now realizing it as a career in my mid 20's. I plan to go to Vancouver Film School's sound program hopefully next year if all works out well, so if any of you are familiar with the program and have any tips or comments, don't hesitate to share. I'd like to eventually work in game audio or television/film sound, but I'm unsure what my next step should be.

What I've accumulated so far regarding info/gear: -Sony PCM-M10 recorder -Ableton Live 8 -M-Audio FastTrack Pro -A small library of sounds I've recorded, mainly ambiance and nature recordings. -"Sound Effects Bible" by Ric Viers -"Foley Grail" by Vanessa Ament -"Sound Design" by David Sonnenschein -"Complete Guide to Game Audio" by Aaron Marks -"Modern Recording Techniques" 7th edition

I am currently working my way through those books, but am still unaware as to how I go about practicing adding sound to picture. I've just started working with Ableton which is a very fun program, but I'm not sure how or if it can work with video just yet. My recording and mixing skills are still in the beginning phase, so I really need to learn and practice those skills but have little guidance as to how to approach them.

So I seem to be on the right course, I'm assuming, but other than recording and collecting audio, I seem to be in the dark as to what to do with these sounds. I know Protools is in my future, but I'm trying to work with what I've got for now.

So what should my next steps be? And how do I practice and develop this skill to prepare myself for a career in audio?

Any advice you have will be greatly appreciated! Thank you.


8 Answers 8


Hearme, I'm in the VFS SD program myself right now and about halfway through it, so there's my bias. Long post incoming!

I don't want to seem too pro-VFS, so I'll start by saying:

You Don't Need It..

As everyone's said, you absolutely don't need the program. No one else in this thread so far has gone here and they're all Sound Designers of a degree; it's totally possible to go it on your own. I know this sounds obvious, but I repeat it only so that you don't get so caught up in the idea of VFS as your next step that you put off starting your career proper.

If you have the drive and the resources and -- most importantly -- the time to make this career switch, you could even do better spending the money you would spend on tuition (if you're still able to get it outside of an academic loan) on a little time off and a lot of gear to get you started. VFS won't provide you with anything gear-wise and you'll need to pick all that up after you graduate, anyways, so you would get a head start in that regard.

Things You Can Do // Get Your Hands Dirty

  • Watch the movies everyone lists on this site, analyze what the sound's trying to do emotionally, read and watch everything on Designing Sound and DesigningSound.TV. You won't really learn anything until you get you start trying it for yourself, though..
  • Grab royalty-free animations and try to create sounds for them.
  • Cut sounds for creatures. Start with your voice and record a bunch of different layers, learn what they're like as they come together. You'll learn a lot about EQing, plugin/sound manipulation and consistency with an exercise like this.
  • Cut sci-fi sounds. We still don't know what a laser is supposed to sound like, so start anywhere and enjoy the journey.
  • Record you and your friends d8oing voiceover dubs for random movie clips and try to cut them into perfect sync with the clips themselves. Dialogue Editing hurts, respect it.
  • Try to recreate all the SFX of a clip doing some homemade Foley in your garage or wherever. This'll teach you some resourcefulness. It's also fun as hell!
  • Read any number of articles out there on recording vehicles and grab some audio of your car doing a dozen different things, then try to cut a vehicle scene. Vehicles will make you cry.
  • Cut fight scenes.
  • Cut robots.
  • Cut superpowers.
  • Make homemade music videos, try using only the song itself as source material for any special effects moments you'd want to hit in the music video/trailer as well.

I can't advocate pirating software, plugins, library sounds, but do what you need to do to practice. DON'T get too caught up in the plugin, though.. most of the time, most of the work for me is in picking good source sounds. It's tough to polish shit into diamonds.

In terms of a DAW, you'll be using Pro Tools (Mac, sometimes PC) almost exclusively for your linear/post editing in the program, so if you wanted to get a head start, you could start there. Especially easy now that Pro Tools 9 doesn't require you to buy any proprietary Avid hardware to run it. Learn "too much" of PT, though, and you may find your first two months' at VFS a bit of a waste of money, as that's when all the introductory stuff is taught. Not something I'd really consider a problem, but there it is.

Take everyone's advice about self-promotion, networking, asking questions and staying humble as well. You're lucky to have a community like SSD kicking around to help you out, because I've found that some in audio (generally, and on newsgroups etc.) are randomly really elitist about their work and shrug off these "beginner" questions, though they obviously had to be beginners themselves at some point.

And keep believing it will pay off! You probably won't get rich, but if it's what you truly want, there is a career out there waiting for you.

That all said..

Reasons Why You Might Still Want It

Considering all of the above, whether you should attend or not is going to be a really personal thing. In my case, I wanted to make a major career switch, but couldn't find the time or the extreme self-discipline to teach myself it the way I wanted to while still paying rent, having a girlfriend, seeing friends, going out, etc. I wanted to go off the map and just grind sound for a year, take a bit of a risk, see if I could cut it. This has been VFS for me, and I've learned a ton in these past six months considering where I was. But man, is there ever so much to learn.

My attitude in coming here is as someone said above: you get out of a program like this what you put into it. If you're going to work harder than the rest of your class (very difficult in a really motivated class - don't give up if you're not the big fish in a small pond!), ask the best questions and just devote yourself to this stuff, I think it's worth your while. It's not an easy year nor any sort of hand-out. Be prepared to work your ass off.

Some Pros:

VFS has some great teachers. Mostly it has good ones, though. The great ones will inspire you, show you things you didn't know, and bring work out of you that you didn't know you were capable of. The good ones might just show you some things you didn't know and give you a little structure (in the form of assignments) within which to teach yourself. If you come here, identify the greats and stick with them. It's what you're paying for.

You will have constant support in the form of up to 15 others going through the same shit as you, day in, day out. If you thrive around people (I do) and don't know if you could pull this off in a year's time in your own basement with some tutorials, this will be super appealing to you. I've found that around 20% of each class really wants to kick the shit out of the program and will help you push yourself to do better work than you would otherwise. Identify these people, friend them, compete with them and ask always for their feedback and you'll be exploiting one of the best parts of the program.

Gear Access. You've got a big playground of mics of all different types and brands, recorders, MIDI controllers and plugin-loaded iLoks here to check out throughout the entire year. The facilities are pretty tops, too. Some of the computers could use upgrading, but it's nice to get to ramp up to speed on a real-deal mixing console in a 5.1 room -- or the ICON -- even if you'll never get to touch one again in your life. Check out and try different types of mics, bunches at a time, record stuff, and find the ones you like, and you'll learn a ton about recording outside of what the courses will teach you. You can't afford to experiment like this without coming to a stocked school or working at a shop that's got this stuff (which would probably require some SD experience), so it's another pro.

Structure. If you're not great at organization and self-discipline and all that, it doesn't mean you can't end up a brilliant sound designer. They're things that can be fixed, and if you weren't born a motivated, blog-posting, constantly experimenting machine, you could at least drop the loan to try to turn yourself into one. I'm willing to bet that most of the sound designers out there were, in fact, normal people at one point who needed a little nudge at some point along the way to get started. There's no shame in wanting to send yourself to boot camp, and trust me - it's a very tough ride, tougher if you make it harder for yourself.

Finally, my blog and some VFS work so far is up at www.lucafusi.com, take a look and see what you'd be getting into. I'm not out in the working world yet, but someday soon I will be, and no matter what happens, I feel good about my choice. Make yours and own it!

Feel free to hit me up at [email protected] anytime if you have any more questions about how things run up here, I'm not an advisor or anything, but I spent a while trying to find information on what really happened in this program before coming here and often turned up empty-handed.




Im not a professional, but things I will do for little projects to play around with is either A find a short clip of something and put all the sound to it, or B I like finding still cgi images of crazy things and then design a minute of so of an audio world to accompany the still image. Then ill add some kind of event taking place in the world. The stills method allows me to be a bit more creative because i'm not tied to the picture, I am just using it for a direction to head.

Deviant Art is a cool place to look for stills.

Try only using your own audio that you record for all of them. It will help you understand how and what to do and not do while recording.

Ableton is a fun program I use alot to design crazy effects and things, I still cut to picture in Nuendo and am now teaching myself pro tools, but I always go back to ableton to play around with stuff using my midi keyboard.

  • I tried to work with stills and it definitely is something worth doing! Commented Apr 14, 2011 at 22:55
  • Agreed, another advocate here :) Commented Apr 14, 2011 at 23:24
  • Sound to still is a great idea! @michael Commented Apr 15, 2011 at 2:46

Some advice for when you go to Vancouver Film School,

I have heard a lot of great comments about it,

but ultimately, you get out of this type of school what you put into it. Ask more questions than any other student. Work as hard as you can and learn as much as you can. It will pay off in the long-run.

I've seen people pay $30,000 for a school that basically taught him what the book says,

and I've seen people pay $30,000 for a school and made the teacher teach him more than the other students because he worked hard, asked a lot of questions, made it his purpose to excel and learn as much as he possibly could get out of that school. Because of it he got to work on more projects and meet more contacts and basically get more than his money's worth.

  • What @Utopia said x1000! I've been a teacher at some of these types of courses, and you always get out what you put in. Only 10% of the students will actively involve themselves in their education - be part of that 10%! Also as far as your next step, if I've learned anything in my life, WHAT EXACTLY your next step is is far less important than TAKING a next step in the first place! I've seen so many folks get so caught up in making sure their next step was perfect, they never took any steps at all! Most of them now work as Civil Servants...
    – Sonsey
    Commented Apr 17, 2011 at 15:10
  • I agree completely. Do as many student films and side projects as possible... and more. Also, Intern wherever you can, and as many semesters as you can. You'll learn a lot more in the real world than you will in a classroom.
    – Dan2997
    Commented Apr 18, 2011 at 6:39

To follow up on @Michael 's post...

I'm not a professional either, yet. But I went to a recording school called OIART and while I was there spent my entire last semester designing idents (or stingers, slugs, or spots). really great practice, especially if you don't know anyone in the biz just yet.

Go to www.idents.tv, watch through all of the videos on mute and pick the 7 to 10 that you find the most visually stimulating. Design them... Twice. If you can, write music for them. Really try to figure out what the underlying feeling is (pretty chipper for the most part, but that's the stuff I've always found most difficult, creepy is really pretty easy), and build sounds to match.

The best part of practicing on idents is that they're super short (30 seconds or less, sometimes 10), and they're a lot of achievement with much less effort (I find that just finishing something gives me a real boost). Also, they all have some semblance of the three act structure. Find the climactic moment and make that sound and everything else will fall into place. I find there's a kind of keystone to every design and once you find it the rest is sailing.

The best best part is that when you look up after a month of super fun not work you'll have a whole stack of increasingly awesomely designed spots to show to people who you want to give you moneys.

  • Oh, and don't listen to the originals until you're done your own versions. I think you'll surprise yourself with how pro your work will sound if you don't start off comparing yourself to your "seniors".
    – g.a.harry
    Commented Apr 16, 2011 at 6:46

Dude, if you are in your mid20s and you can go to Vancouver Film School, you should thank your lucky stars. Not everybody out there has a gnarly opportunity like that. If you can go that far I'd say that worrying is not worth half your time and if you know what you want it shouldn't be hard to get it or go after it.


You can work with video in Ableton, all you've got to do is go under your sequencer/timeline view and drag a video in. I will say that as somebody who has done it, Ableton isn't all that great for trying to do sound for film. It's a useful sound design tool, but as far as your actual editing goes, I'd recommend trying to use Nuendo or Pro Tools. Both are kind of expensive, obviously, but I've heard that the shareware Reaper works decently for post as well.

Books wise, I'd like to add Dialogue Editing for Motion Pictures//John Purcell. Very useful, and his dialogue editing techniques/workflow are in many ways also applicable to FX editing.


With regards to game audio, two of my Masters lecturers have just released a 'practical guide to sound and music for interactive games' called 'The Game Audio Tutorial'. It's been written with the aim of getting sound designers and composers thinking about sound from a game perspective and comes with an enormous tutorial level that can be loaded into the (free) Unreal Development Kit game engine software for tinkering. - http://www.thegameaudiotutorial.com/

I'd also highly recommend Karen Collins' 'Game Sound: an introduction to the History, Theory and Practice of Video Game Music and Sound Design' as a more recent overview of the subject.

For practising game sound design, there are a few free-for-personal-use game engines out there to download (UDK has the most potential for audio imo). With a bit of patience it won't be long before you're playing around with your own sounds in the supplied example levels. It also wouldn't hurt to try some sound design projects in game audio middleware programs (also free for personal use) such as Fmod and Wwise. Both of these have in-depth tutorials showing the kind of things you can do with them.

Good luck!


Getting your technical skills up to par is very important and it sounds like you're heading in the right direction.

My question to you is what are you doing to hone your creative skills? A great author not only knows how to use a typewriter or a pen, but they've read and studied hundreds and hundreds of great books by other authors as well.

I'd suggest making your way through as many of the best sounding films out there as you can in preparation for your studies. Or playing the best sounding games. It amazing what can be learned from studying/listening/dissecting the work of the great masters. The tools of the trade change over time, but the great sound designers know how to tell stories.

I'd also suggest field recording as much as possible to build a custom and unique sfx library.

Good luck.

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